Toronto on a budget: 7 travel hacks to save on your trip
Toronto may not be Canada's federal capital, but it is the biggest city and the cultural capital of the nation. Home to major attractions like the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto Zoo, and St. Lawrence Market, downtown Toronto is a busy and vibrant place to visit at any time of year. Located on the shores of Lake Ontario, it's also a very scenic city, with the lofty CN Tower making Toronto's skyline instantly recognizable.
What Toronto is not, however, is a cheap city. The cost of living is high here, and you'll be competing for places to stay and eat with the millions of people who visit Toronto every year. If you want to get the most out of one of North America's major cities, you need to be prepared.
Luckily, you'll find some free and cheap activities in and around the city so you can enjoy Toronto on a budget. And there's so much choice here when it comes to hotel rooms, restaurants, and bars, you can always find a more budget-friendly option.
Drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Toronto so you're not carrying more than you need to. Traveling light makes it easier to visit Toronto on a budget and get the most out of what can be an expensive city.
Cheap places to stay in Toronto
As with most major cities, staying in downtown Toronto will cost you more than staying anywhere else. At the same time, it will keep you close to the heart of the action. If staying within walking distance of Rogers Centre, the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the Ontario Science Centre is important to you, you may have no choice but to stay in the downtown area.
However, Toronto is a city of neighborhoods, and you'll find that the average price of a hotel room drops as soon as you leave the downtown core. Plus, neighborhoods like Kensington Market, a cultural hub of the city, make a great location for anyone wanting to live like a local and have plenty to offer that you won't find downtown. Toronto has a good public transportation network that you can use to get just about anywhere in the city, so don't feel like you have to stay in the downtown area to visit Toronto on a budget. You can learn more about the neighborhoods of Toronto in our neighborhood guide.
The Clarence Park
Located in the Fashion District close to Old Toronto and just blocks from the CN Tower, this budget hotel represents a great bargain for those visiting Toronto on a budget. As well as being within walking distance of some top attractions, this hotel is only 11 minutes from the St. Andrew subway station, making it easy to get around the city.
This is definitely a no-frills hotel, so don't expect a lot in the way of amenities. However, there is free Wi-Fi and an in-house restaurant. In the height of summer tourist season, a bed in a dormitory here costs around $40. That's a great bargain for this area, so if you just need a place to crash, The Clarence Park is ideal.
Madison Manor Boutique Hotel
Housed in a beautiful heritage building, this hotel offers tons of charm. Built to resemble an English manor house, every room here is different, and some feature fireplaces, stained-glass windows, and balconies. The hotel is also known for its British theme pub, which is a lively place to spend an evening and meet other travelers visiting Toronto on a budget. Close to the University of Toronto, the hotel is in a fun and vibrant area and is just a couple blocks away from the Royal Ontario Museum.
In the busy summer tourist season, you can expect a private room to cost around $160. Although that's not especially cheap, it does include free breakfast, and the great location plus the historic charm make this hotel worth splurging on.
The neighborhood of Kensington Market is one of Toronto's most interesting and a place you should definitely visit while you're in the city. If you want to stay in this intriguing location that's still very convenient for downtown Toronto, consider this budget hotel chain. Surrounded by bars and restaurants, it's a short walk from the hotel to the nearest tram stop, and the Art Gallery of Ontario is well within walking distance.
During August, a bed in a shared dorm will cost around $50. That includes breakfast, making it a good deal for those on a stringent budget. There is a shared bathroom and communal kitchen facilities that allow you to cook your own meals, which can be a great way to save money in the city.
Alternatively, you can get a private room with a shared bathroom for around $140. This also includes breakfast, so could be worth considering if you want your privacy.
Cheap things to do in Toronto
It's easy to spend money enjoying the best of what Toronto has to offer. However, it's not necessary. Some of the city's top attractions can be visited quite cheaply or even for free. Take advantage of some of these things to do to make your holiday budget stretch further.
Toronto is blessed with lots of ways to explore the great outdoors. Taking a stroll along the shore of Lake Ontario doesn't cost anything and can be a great thing to do in the city. Or, if you're willing to travel a little outside Toronto itself, you can visit Niagara Falls, and all it will cost you is the price of the bus ride there and back. And even in the city itself, there are great bargains for anyone looking for something to do without spending much money.
St. Lawrence Market
Spread across three historic buildings in Toronto's downtown core, you can find just about everything at the St. Lawrence Market, from fresh produce to antiques to clothes and jewelry. It's free to enter the market, and you don't need to buy anything to have a good time here. Just browsing the stalls and soaking up the atmosphere is a fun way to spend a morning in Toronto. However, it can be hard to resist the temptation to try some of the delicious food on offer here.
This nonprofit cultural organization is a great place to come to explore the artistic side of the city. Located on the shores of the lake, you can go ice-skating here during the winter, while in the summer months, there are free concerts, art exhibitions, and other free activities that will let you enjoy the arts in Toronto like a local.
If you want to escape the busy pace of the city and enjoy the more natural side of Canada, Center Island is an accessible and affordable place to do just that. The 10-minute ferry ride only costs a few dollars, and once you reach the island, you'll find plenty of walking trails and parks to explore this lakeside environment. There are even barbecues that you can use to cook your own food, along with restaurants ready to serve tourists. It's a fantastic way to experience the outdoors without going too far from the city, and a really fun activity to take part in without spending very much money at all.
Cheap places to eat in Toronto
Toronto is often proclaimed as the world's most cosmopolitan city, with more than 140 different languages spoken in the area. That incredible diversity has made the city's food scene one of the best in North America. Whatever you like to eat, you'll probably have multiple choices of places to go for your favorite dishes in the city. And thanks to this ever-evolving culinary scene, Toronto is a great place to try something new to eat, too.
All this competition means that you can often find great bargains on things to eat in Toronto. Yes, the city has plenty of high-end and expensive restaurants, but it also has tons of small restaurants and food trucks that will sell you incredible food at bargain prices. You can enjoy the best street food in Toronto or try some of these bargain prices eateries.
This popular Italian deli is a great place to come for a hearty lunch. You can make your own sandwich to your specifications, and the portions are huge, with many sandwiches costing under $12.
Aunty Lucy's Burgers
This Ghanaian burger joint has long been known as one of the cheapest places to eat in Toronto. Close to the University of Toronto and popular with students, Aunty Lucy's has outdoor seating for those warm summer months as well as an indoor dining area. Burgers cost $8 to $10, with grilled cheese available for five dollars, and they also serve multiperson combos that are great for sharing with a group.
Spicy Sri Lankan cuisine is on offer here, and you'll see just how popular this place is by the long line outside. Still, it's worth the wait. Vegetarian dishes are generally under five dollars, while even meat dishes are usually around seven dollars. You can eat like royalty here without spending very much at all.
Cheap bars in Toronto
The cost of living in Toronto seems to go up every year, and the once-ubiquitous dive bar is getting harder to find downtown. With that said, Toronto still has some great options for cheap drinks. Check out neighborhood bars in Kensington and in the student area close to the University of Toronto. Also, keep an eye out for happy hour specials, as most bars have them, and they can really lower the cost of food and drink while you explore Toronto's social scene.
This Mexican bar and restaurant is great for cheap drinks and affordable food. Classic margaritas are available for six dollars between 3-5 PM and again from 10 PM until closing on weekdays, so you can sample a little bit of Mexican life right in the heart of Toronto.
This casual sports bar boasts a rooftop patio and some great deals on drinks. They have an extensive selection of beers on tap with pitchers starting at CAD$14, and after 9 PM on Thursday and Friday, you can get a pint of domestic traffic for only CAD$6.
The outdoor patio of this brightly colored bar is a great place to spend a summer's evening, and it doesn't need to cost you very much. The drinks are cheap here at any time of day, but visit between 4-6 PM from Monday to Thursday for two-dollar cans of Pabst blue ribbon, five-dollar doubles of spirits, and free popcorn.
Bonus budget tips for Toronto
Explore the city on foot or by bike: Toronto is a walkable city, and there are many bike lanes and trails to explore. Walking or biking is a great way to see the city without spending money on transportation.
Eat like a local: Toronto has a diverse food scene, and you can find delicious and affordable food in many neighborhoods. Try street food or local markets for budget-friendly eats.
Use public transportation: Toronto has an extensive public transportation system, including buses, streetcars, and subways. Consider purchasing a day pass or a weekly pass to save money on transportation.
Toronto may be one of the most expensive cities in North America, but that doesn't mean you can't save money while visiting. Even major attractions in the city can be surprisingly affordable to visit, and by taking advantage of cheap accommodation, the best free things to do in Toronto, and saving on food and drinks, you can have a great time in the city while sticking to your budget.
Just remember to drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Toronto before heading out to enjoy what the city offers you. You'll find it much easier to travel on a budget if you're not carrying more than you need to.